Week off Pt. II

Week off

I have a week off from work. THANK YOU, JESUS as they say in these parts. I've done everything possible to tackle and anticipate ongoing paperwork so I don't do what I do on most days that I'm "off", that is, work all day and go out for food and drinks at night just to get out of the house. I now know that I've been successful at creating this week's space for myself but I had a panic before I left home for a trip earlier this week, panic brought on from fear that I wouldn't actually have a vacation because I had to have forgotten something.

Originally we thought about traveling somewhere this week, to visit Miguel in the Canary Islands, to Montreal, or Nova Scotia. The longer we researched and put off buying plane tickets, the more we realized - Matthew was the first to conclude it - that the thought of traveling was the problem. The best vacation I could possibly have now is to just be home, enjoying being home, being in this city.

I want to lounge on the couch, feet up on the ottoman and a cup of coffee in my hand, having long meandering conversations that aren't cut short by urgenturgenturgent emails and phone calls. I'm going on a date to the Adventure Science Center, playing with my new drum kit, sitting in coffee shops blogging, writing letters, making mix CDs and writing postcards. I'm cooking dinner. Shit, I'm helping Matthew clean the house. I've done my own laundry once since February and cleaned never, which isn't exactly a complaint; it just shows how separate I am from my home. Yesterday I thought, "I really need to wash my hair. When did I last wash it, in South Carolina or Florida?"

Here's a worse question, one that Matthew has asked me, "Where's the girl I met?"

That girl took long walks and long breaks and had a pretty good sense of balance. I was well acquainted with the thoughts in my head then whereas now I forget most details unless I'm getting paid to remember: monetized memory. I used to give as much energy to myself as much as I gave to others. The loss of my habits and qualities was gradual and it is also, I believe, reversible. And nothing tells me that I need to give some attention to regaining these losses than the fact that I was on verge of tears earlier this week just imagining the prospect of having time to be me.


At the end of May I checked into a hotel in Los Angeles, a hotel where I've spent months and months of nights in the past. I have all my favorite spots to walk to from the hotel, the place I buy groceries for the minibar fridge, and the sales manager I hug when I see. I'm totally comfortable in this place. When I got to my room in May, I went out to sit on the balcony and put my feet up on the railing. After a few moments of staring into the trees I realized that it was a year almost to the day that I checked into the same hotel to kick off last summer's season of touring. Checking in then meant that I wouldn't be home for months. Now it's better - I'm usually home a couple of days a week - but what struck me most was that the date meant I had been going, going, gone for a solid 365. So this is what that feels like.


Last night I watched an episode of True Blood and struggled to follow the plot (see: the memory loss I was talking about) but was quite taken with a sexy new character Salome Agrippa. It wasn't just her classic Mediterranean profile or vampiric composure. It wasn't her seduction of Bill, Eric, and that actor from Law & Order: SVU. It was her line, "We always have choices." She actually said it twice and it felt like she was making sure that I caught it. I was also quite drawn in when she spoke in first person about Biblical events and had to hit pause, "MY GOD, living for 2000 years? Are you kidding me? How on earth do you remember everything that's happened?" But the thing about choices, and I know life lessons from True Blood may be a touch out of context but hell, I'll take it where I can get it, if we always have choices, am I choosing to be this busy? How can I choose to manage myself better? Or is this the best thing I can do right now for reasons greater than too bad I don't have time to walk around and sit under trees writing my feelings in a journal? Am I just being an adult?


This morning I sat on the couch with my feet on the ottoman and had a long meandering conversation with Matthew that led me to tell him how in sixth grade Sunny and I wrote promises to ourselves on the underside of the table we worked at in our classroom. I told him, "We took these promises seriously because, you know, we wrote them in marker." The two I recall are:



The Acorn was a shop in Hyde Park, the neighborhood we both grew up in, stocked with clothes for golfing and lunching at the country club.

"Have you ever bought clothes at The Acorn?" he asked.

"No, but I bought a few things at Ann Taylor Loft."

"Well, it was for work," he said.

When I was a kid, I had ideas about adulthood and who I'd be when I got here. And in many ways, I'm pretty damn close to who I wanted to grow into. Some surface details have been big surprises but I arrived here today fully through my character: following my emotions and intuition more often than being practical, taking risks, planning only as little as was necessary, and letting unexpected turns take me for a ride. I'm as happily anchored as I've ever been with a husband and city I love and want to stay in. He's a natural planner and that might be rubbing off on me a little. I mean, I'm the one who's glued to real estate listings and wants to buy a house. That's a FIRST.

The main discord at odds with who I imagined I'd be in 1987 and how I want to live now is that I'm just not tuned to be a workaholic. To be clear: I like working hard and I'm good at it. But at the expense of my mental health or my relationships, for long periods of time with no end in sight? No. That page is not in my atlas. A phrase I've been using way too much lately is "happy medium". The happy medium is somewhere between being stagnant and being burnt out and neurotic. My happy medium is a place where I'm learning and growing but not fractured. So that's what this week is, a cast. I hope you can sign your name on it.


Yes! Jess

I took this sign from a street corner while everyone else was at In-N-Out south of Santa Barbara after a show and had it propped up in the front lounge when they got back on the bus. Having now taken this photo I know that if I ever run for U.S. Congress, I already have a slogan and Rob and Jason's votes.


A few weeks ago I was walking through the loading dock of an arena in Birmingham, AL when a man with shoulder-length lank grey hair, chin stubble, and a Rasta bracelet told me to smile, sweetheart. I didn't recognize him but had the feeling that I should. In retrospect I think he was a local stagehand but something about him seemed familiar, like he was crew guy on Aldean's team who I'd forgotten over the six-week break from their tour. Aldean's crew and management are fantastic so I didn't want to be dick but I felt a surge of old, uncomfortable emotions associated with being told to smile that I tried to cover up.

"What?" I said, forcing a smile.

"I've seen you walking around and you need to smile more. Enjoy life. Enjoy your job!"

He said something about always having positive energy and prodded me to agree with him. I mumbled, "Yeah, positive energy," and got out of there before he produced a bongo and started singing but I was pissed, at myself and him. For reasons I wasn't entirely sure of, I'd let him tell me how to be. I'd agreed to let him boss my face around. My stomach hollowed out and my skin went hot and as I was walking away I sent Matthew texts.

"Some fucker just told me to smile."

"And of course it was an know-it-all old man."

This has happened many times before but not recently so I wasn't prepared. It's always annoyed me but it feels much worse now. Being asked what was wrong as I walked down the hall in high school was an easy fix: "Nothing! Why? Oh, that's just my face." In college in Ecuador, men on the street told me to smile and I went through a phase of baring my teeth like a rabid dog, a grotesque imitation of a smile. The older man pattern began to show itself in Seattle when I was a bartender. They were usually middle-aged or more and often sailors or construction workers and it was in a divey Irish pub where we were allowed to cut people off and kick them out and tell them to fuck off if necessary. Most of the bartenders were tough bitches - shit, I was scared on my first shift - and in no way should the customers have expected me to smile if I didn't feel like it or kiss their asses in any way so I told them as much.

And that is when I started noticing that I've never been told by anyone female to smile more. Always and only men.

In Birmingham last month, I wondered why it's been so long since I've faced this and why I was subsequently so caught off guard. I can't remember ever being told on Idol to smile so either I smiled more or people knew me better and didn't expect that, both of which are very possible. The Aldean stagehand didn't know me or what I do as he watched me walking through the loading dock that day. Then I thought of something that ratcheted up my anger: I SERIOUSLY FUCKING DOUBT THAT HE'S TELLING ALDEAN'S MALE TOUR MANAGER OR PRODUCTION MANAGER TO SMILE.

There is no way. No, those guys have jobs to do and a lot to manage and be responsible for and may not be concerned with spreading joy and light as they move from one task to another. They have to work hard! But I'm supposed to entertain some dude's desire for levity? Oh, hell. Aldean's managers are great at their jobs and I've seen them smile and laugh when something makes them laugh; the rest of the time they're busting ass, all business. I don't think that has anything to do with whether they enjoy life or their jobs or if they're clowns in their off time. Nor do I think the absence of a smile signals negativity. Absorption, contemplation, concentration: take your pick. Anyway, it's not really that guy's business.

Not that I said any of this to the stagehand, of course. I'm still out of practice and the thought still burns me. What do I say? I don't want to get mad or defensive. I want to just calmly, swiftly shut him down. I don't want to agree and play along. I'd love to make him think and I'm definitely not opposed to making him feel stupid. Any thoughts?